Fields, Forests & Wetlands Foods of Eastern North America
A Complete Wild Food Guide
Milkweed Flower Buds
Young Milkweed plant before flowering.
Urban, Rural or Both: Both
Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca). The season is so short, they're sticky and messy to work with, but they are so good that it really is worth it.
Some time in June, the flower buds (NOT the pods) of the Milkweed are still green and unopened. Once you see the mauve color, you are too late - they must be green. At least that is my opinion.
Caution: If you are allergic to latex, do not eat or touch this plant. The milky sap contains about 1-2% latex.
Some people eat other parts of the plant. Some people eat the young shoots, leaves and even the flowers & pods. Some people claim to eat this plant raw or lightly cooked. Do your own research and come to your own conclusions, but be aware they have small amounts of cardiac glycosides in them that boiling in water removes for the most part. The instructions below is the only way I eat them. It is what I recommend. Not saying I'm right, but this is the way I like to do it.
You will need a damp cloth to get the sticky white sap off your hands and everything you touch when you are picking and working with them. Bring the flower buds home and store in the fridge for up to a day or two until you are ready to cook them, but of course they are best fresh.
To cook, bring a pot of water to a boil. Drop the flower buds into the boiling water and simmer until they are cooked to the way you like them - some people like their vegetables cooked soft, some prefer them with a bit of crunch. They cook fast, so test one after a minute or two. Lift them out of the water and use as you would broccoli, cauliflower or asparagus. My favorite way is with a bit of salt, lemon juice and olive oil. A sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper is nice. You can add them (already cooked as above) to stir-fry's. I get a kick out of watching the nervous look people have just before trying them turn to astonishment and pleasure when they first taste them. They truly are a taste delicacy.
Growing this plant in your home garden:
A good choice, as it attracts the Monarch butterfly (it's all they like to eat) and you get the bonus of some food for yourself.
For detailed growing instructions, go to my Wild Foods Home Garden website Milkweed page.
- Plant Size: Up to 2.5 meters (8 feet) tall
- Duration: Roots are Perennial
- Leaf Shape: Ovate to Lanceolate
- Leaf Phyllotaxis (Leaf Arrangement) on branch: Decussate (Alternating Opposites. That is, they come in Opposite pairs that Alternate on the stem - if looking at the plant from above, you will have one pair at three and nine o'clock, then the next pair at twelve and six o'clock.)
- Leaf Size: Up to 25 cm (10 inches) long and 12 cm (4 3/4 inches) wide, but usually much smaller
- Leaf Margin: Entire (smooth edged), and very often wavy
- Leaf Notes: leaf central vein is reddish
- Flowers: Spherical clusters of mauve to purple little 5 petalled flowers
- Fruit: Pods with oval, flat, brown seeds with flat wing like structure around it attached to a pappus that acts like a parachute to let the fruit be carried by the wind.
- Habitat: Full sun in a variety of habitats. Fields, waste areas, gardens as a weed, in with crops, along fence lines.
- Recipe search on the web here (Google search) and here (Bing search).
- Pictures on the web here (Google images) and here (Bing images).
- USDA distribution map and plant profile here.
- The Biota of North America Program (BONAP) distribution map here. BONAP map color key here.
Common Milkweed drawing. (USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York. Vol. 3: 30.)
Milkweed flower ripe for harvesting. This is what you are looking for. Please leave one or two on each plant so they can reproduce. Picture taken in later June.
Milkweed flower turning color. Too late for picking. It must be green like the picture above.
Milkweed flower open. This is what the buds turn into.
Milkweed in seeding stage.
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